Eurovision: A continent divided in its sexual attitudes?

In his second post on this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, Dr Alan Renwick looks here at what the voting patterns tell us about attitudes towards sexual minorities across Europe today.

This year’s Eurovision Song Contest has been won by a bearded drag artist from Austria.  There was much talk beforehand about whether the votes cast for Conchita Wurst would reveal a divide across Europe in attitudes towards alternative sexual identities.  Attitudes in the north west, many supposed, would be more progressive, while attitudes in the south and, particularly, the east were expected be more conservative.

Is that borne out by the results?  The map below colours in the countries participating this year according to the points they gave to Austria: blue countries gave Austria 12 points, red countries gave it no points, and the intermediate colours show the scale of points in between.  Certainly, things look bluer in the west (south as well as north) than in the east, though there are exceptions, notably the 10 points that went Austria’s way from Georgia.

 

Points given to Austria

Eurovision 2014 - Austria points

 

 

If we look at averages, we can see that Conchita won, on average, 4.4 points in the countries of the former Soviet Union excluding the Baltics, 6.0 points in the remaining former communist countries, and 10.5 points in the remaining countries (Scandinavia, the west of Europe, Greece, and Israel) – so there does seem to be quite a difference from east to west.

But we need to dig a bit deeper.  The points that are awarded are, in almost all countries, calculated on the basis of a combination of a jury vote and a popular vote.  (This year, San Marino and Albania had only a jury, while Georgia had only a popular vote.)  If social attitudes differ across the content, we should expect that to be reflected in the popular vote.

As the next map shows, however, differences in popular attitudes seem to be much less marked than the overall points suggest.  Only one country – Estonia – put Austria lower than fifth in the popular vote.  Conchita ranked within the top three not just in most of western Europe, but also in Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia.  The average points she would have won had only the popular votes counted would have been 8.0 in the former Soviet Union excluding the Baltics, 7.3 in the other former communist countries, and 10.0 in the rest.  So the differences are really quite small.

 

Points for Austria based on popular vote only

Eurovision 2014 - Austria popular

 

 

The final map shows what the results would have been had only the jury votes counted.  Conchita would have done much less well by this measure.  Whereas she ranked lower than fifth in only one country in the popular vote, she failed to make the top five of the jury vote in sixteen countries.  And here there does seem to be more of an east–west split: seven of the nine countries giving Austria no votes on this measure are in the former communist world (San Marino and, surprisingly, Germany are the exceptions).  The juries in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus all put Conchita among the lowest placed acts.  On the jury vote alone, she would have averaged just 2.5 points in the former Soviet Union except the Baltics, 4 in the remaining former communist countries, and 8.4 in the rest.

 

Points for Austria based on jury vote only

Eurovision 2014 - Austria jury

 

The results suggest, then, that we do live in a divided continent.  But the divisions might penetrate much less deeply into society than we often suppose.  The differences revealed in the popular voting are slight, whereas those in the elite juries are very marked.

Of course, this is only one source of evidence.  There is much, much more than this to be said about attitudes towards sexual minorities around Europe and across the world.  Nevertheless, there might be reason to hope that, even in those countries where the ruling elites are often highly intolerant, the wider population might be readier to accept that different people might be different.

Update, 13 May 2014

This post has prompted lots of discussion, which is great.  Lots of you have pointed out that there are many other factors that we need to take account of besides those mentioned above.  Absolutely right!  It’s very likely that LGBTQI people are disproportionately represented among Eurovision voters.  Different national juries are composed differently.  Tastes vary for many reasons, not just attitudes to sexuality.  Voting for a drag act does not always mean you would welcome your son’s boyfriend into the family.  And there are many more good points besides these that have been made in the comments below and elsewhere.

The original post was intended to look at some patterns in the numbers and encourage some discussion about what they might mean.  It was not intended to be a thorough analysis!  I’m really glad it is serving its purpose – and providing some light entertainment too.

Oh, and sorry to those of you who would like a key to the colours on the maps.  You’re quite right and I did produce one, but then I couldn’t get our rather clunky website to display it properly.

Alan

  1. Girl George’s avatar

    All this does rather assume that voters voted only on the basis of their attitudes to sexual minorities. Perhaps some actually assessed Concita’s musical abilities. It would not be unreasonable to say that these were low.

    Reply

    1. svenskaaa’s avatar

      There is a chance you are right, of course, but if we look into the overall jury votes (which is much less leaning towards what you are pointing out as they are voting in a different way. You can see it just above) – Conchita would’ve still won – by a smaller gap of 21 points (224 vs. 203/Netherlands).

      Reply

    2. Geoff Coupe’s avatar

      On the other hand, some of us think that Ms. Wurst delivered a Torch song with commendable artistry.

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    3. Kacper Szulecki’s avatar

      Hmmm, Alan, do you accept the possibility that juries made up of musical critics could actually vote for the best performance in terms of content/voice etc… ?

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      1. readingpolitics’s avatar

        I’d guess that most of them probably vote that way. But how do they conceive of ‘best’?

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      2. Mungus’s avatar

        Yes but if the juries are so well-informed and technically minded, how do they arrive at such disparate conclusions based on geographical location? Do the juries in Greece or Iceland hear differently to those in the former USSR?

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      3. Ivan’s avatar

        I would think rather that the jury are recognizable people in their countries and that in Russia they wouldn’t dare risk their careers.
        Otherwise, why in Spain, France, UK or Ireland did the jury gave so many points? They also voted for the best performance.

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      4. Jon Lehti’s avatar

        Sure there is a possibility that musical critics could vote in terms of “best performance”. However, that could not explain the east-west division. The data shows that the juries did not vote for best performance.

        I’d also argue that there are no relevant “musical abilities” outside “pleasing the audience”. The western audience was pleased to see Conchita, and so was the eastern audience.

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      5. Tine’s avatar

        Well looking at results one must wonder if there even was the same criteria for all the countries. Just a few examples:
        - voice performance: yes, Conchita did sing well, but so did Slovenia, which has gotten more or less bad reviews from juries;
        - show/choreography: austria had none, but still got big numbers;
        - lyrics: we’ve heard several good lyrics, I count France’s among them who finished last.

        So what really was a key factor in this year’s eurovision? I can think of only one, maybe two. Te first one – a “freak show” (sadly can’t think of any other expression). And just to be clear, I’m gay, I don’t mind how Conchita is expressing herself, all I’m saying is that how her figure must have been perceived. Oh and the other possible reason is mere politics, as we “gotta show those eastern countries what being open means”.

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      6. K M’s avatar

        Is the German jury really an exception? After all, some of them may be from the formerly-communist world too. Do we know how many?

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      7. adrian’s avatar

        maps should have a colour legend…no?…your work is futile without a legend…

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      8. Philip’s avatar

        Hi

        The colour scheme doesn’t cognate well for me, having some weird colour blindness. Wondering whether shades of the same colour may be better to communicate ‘intensity’.

        Great to see this analysis however

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      9. seci’s avatar

        People do vote for the performance – remember Lordi a few years ago?
        You have to stand out of the crowd. And he/she/it did (or der/die/das?).
        So I don’t think winning this year has much to do with sexual attitudes.

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      10. Jose’s avatar

        Put the color scale to the maps.

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      11. Miguelito’s avatar

        For more than a decade that Iberian politics (both Spain and Portugal) seem far more progressive than the ones of countries like Germany, France or even partially the UK. Is time to end this prejudice: “Attitudes in the north west, many supposed, would be more progressive, while attitudes in the south and, particularly, the east were expected be more conservative.”

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      12. Critical Point’s avatar

        Allan,

        The sampling of watchers of Eurovision’s is not necessarily a representative sampling for the determination of people’s attitudes. I for a change, do not and cannot watch the Eurovision ever. Moreover, in a music context, some people might vote based on their perceived quality of the voice. To start from the hypothesis that all viewers voted on the basis of their attitude towards sexual orientation would need to take into account many other variables, such as the political sympathies for example… Some people might have loved Conchita’s attitude and voice, but simply did not like her dress!

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      13. Casper Albers’s avatar

        I can imagine that in some countries where the government is openly advocating “family values” and other homophobic euphemisms (read: Russia), a jury member might feel uncomfortable putting Conchita Wurst high on their ranking. All individual jury votes are public (http://www.eurovision.tv/page/results ) so Putin will know which jury member supports such “gay propaganda”. The voting of the general public is, obviously, anonymous and, thus, safe from repercussions.

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      14. Renan Machado Cardoso’s avatar

        Great analysis, but isn’t it also a little bit hasty to assume that the votes of the jury has been only driven by their ‘elitism’ background? for all I know, the reason for the low points could be also simply due to different musical taste or standard in the country…
        Nevertheless, wonderful analysis and comparison..

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      15. musician’s avatar

        I thought this was a song contest about music.

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      16. Lukas’s avatar

        Hi, Have you considered the opposite, that some countries voted for Austria just because of the sexual content and directly discriminating the other singers? In general there is a very small share of the population taking part and maybe an online mobilization of LBQTI voters in order to promote the Austrian singer was strong and lead to the result..? I might be wrong, but could be also one of the explanations.

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      17. FlyerSG’s avatar

        It is truly sad, that the greatest, dearest and oldest European SONG (!) contest is now taken away from the true music lovers, smeared with politics, activism etc. Nobody talks about the music, performance, arrangements, lyrics, everybody talks just about quasi human rights issues. Unbelievable.

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      18. T’s avatar

        Perhaps the juries voted in the way they felt they were expected to vote according to their countries’ social norms? Whereas anonymous public voting would encourage people to vote truer to their beliefs.

        So, perhaps there might also be a discrepancy between assumed common culture and actual common culture and individual attitudes.

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      19. Inaki Sagarzazu’s avatar

        Great analysis, I am glad someone looked at this just for fun purposes. One caveat you fail to mention is that voting is an act of self selection and not a random sample of the population, and as such cannot be consider to represent the preferences of the country. So you should probably tone down the similarity aspect to be sure to explain that those who voted might have very different attitudes to their country’s mean preferences behavior.

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      20. Gabriel’s avatar

        Disregarding whether this blog is an official review of the University of Reading or not, the analysis and all the conclusions are wrong. It is merely based in emotions, as the outcome of the contest. So the anthropogenic factor is a permanent perturbance wich should be in some way eliminated or dramatically reduced.
        EUROVISION is a SONG CONTEST and not a survey for measuring sexual attitudes, preferences or gender policies in any way.
        An objective judgement will show that nor the vocal qualities of the interpreter, the song/music, neither the performance of the Austrian representation were even close to the best of the event. So, the vote given by Eastern European countries is closer to the goals of the contest than that of the countries which gave a high mark to the Austrian singer merely because she,he or it was the freakest thing of the night.
        On the other hand, as well known, the homosexual audience of the event is is represented in a scale wich does not correpond to the composition of the general population of the continent. YOU CAN NOT GENERALISE THE RESULT TO THE WHOLE POPULATION OR TO THE OFFICIAL POLICIES OF THE COUNTRIES.
        It is really irresponsible publishing such materials under the name of a University. Be less emotional, perhaps what you need is to write an article on reveindication of homosexual rights, but then be honest and fair.

        Reply

        1. setora’s avatar

          As a musicologist following the song contest for a long time I can assure you that it is and has always been a very political affair. And then, ideas about what constitutes a good voice, a good song and a good performance are not universal or genetically ingrained in people. They are shaped by a multitude of factors, among them politics. There just cannot be an objective judgement on music quality or taste.

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        2. LA’s avatar

          While thought provoking this is all pretty bad science.

          I can understand looking at the voting population, although biased, and drawing some tentative conclusions. But looking at the jury, considering them a representation of elitist opinion and then going as far as considering it ‘evidence’ is just very very flawed.

          Yes, there is a lot of evidence that Russians are intollerant but this is just semi-random conjecture. There might be dozens of explanations, such as regional music preference, selection of the jury, susseptibility to issuing sympathy votes, etc. There where quite a few good songs after all.

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        3. Steven’s avatar

          Professional votes seem to be more biased than just the votes for Austria,…
          Long time rivals Azerbaijan and Armenia both voted each other (popular and Jury) on the lowest possible place, while Armenia ended on a notable 4th place. So at least the Azeri Jury voted unanimously political. Where it is harder to claim the same thing for the Armenian Jury as the Azeri song only ended 22nd.
          On the other hand was the Armenian Jury more professional for the Russian entry, giving it a moderate 6th-12th place (in line with final results) where the Armenian popular vote placed Russia in the first place, combining to a 10points awarded for Russia… The Sovjet home sicknes kicking in again.
          The Azeri Jury over-favored the Russian entry, ranking it 1st-3rd. Is this Sovjet home sickness as well or fear of the dictatorian rule?

          Although, one thing does surprise me, namely the 11th place from the Russian Jury for Austria. Where only one jury member gave a 21st place, out of line with the 7th-10th places given by his colleague jury members. Being announced with name and voting behavior, placing Austria on the 7th place could almost be considered ‘gay propaganda’ and thus punishable. So here’s another way of politics/Putin interfering with results.
          Imho the Russian Jury vote could be considered an already courageous vote. The jury member that gave the highest rank to Austria, was notably the oldest(48) jury member with a classical music background and male. While the lowest Russian jury rank came from a male in his early thirties occupied with pop music. So not everything is according to what one might expect…

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        4. setora’s avatar

          Hey, even though it’s not popular around Germany and might not have affected the jury’s vote, maybe it’s time to remember that a big chunk of Germany actually once was part of the communist world…

          Reply